InnocentDads has a three tiered view of the types of alienators out there. My sense is that I’m dealing with the Obsessive Alienator, but there are Naive Alienators and Active Alienators as well. Great article from a PhD.
In my quiet time on the porch this morning, I found this in Isaiah:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget.
I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,
your walls are ever before me. Your sons hasten back
and those who laid you waste depart from you.”
— Isaiah 49:15-17
For those dads out there. God has not forgotten you. He will bring our sons and daughters back to us. In the meantime, all of those walls they have built — God sees them. He understands — and he is actively involved in helping us.
I had a link from that passage in my bible to another that I think takes it a step further:
“The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save, He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love
He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Several different times during the estrangement that came after my ex-wife and I separated, my daughter has emailed or texted me that she wants absolutely no contact with me. I can’t write her or text her “or else.” Not quite sure what the or else would be. Would she not talk to me less than she is now? Doesn’t seem like there’s much more she can do than she’s already doing at present. She doesn’t talk to me and when she emails or texts, it is with the words of her mom in anger and cruel language. So, I wrote her back and told her that I would honor her request and not write her for a while. That lasted about a month, then I texted her after a soccer game and she sent me several nasty notes back again. It looks like this might go on for a while. So I’ve resorted to writing her letters and saving them. Hopefully, when she decides she wants a relationship with Dad, I can print these out and show her that I was thinking about her and writing her all along. My brother and his wife had this idea, and I think its a good one.
Here’s a note I wrote in this package the other day. I’ve edited out her name, but I sprinkled it liberally through the note. It’s about the kind of Dad I am trying to be for her:
To My Daughter:
One of my goals is to be the best Dad I possible can for you. If you don’t mind, maybe I can explain what I mean by that. I think for a long time, that you and Mom sort of thought that a dad was much like a mom, only a man. I think you were frustrated with me because I wasn’t there for you like Mom was. I think there is some confusion in Mom’s mind and yours and maybe your brother’s mind about what a Dad should and could be. I think I shared a lot of that confusion. I think I knew what I was supposed to be and do as a Dad, but didn’t feel like I could for many of the reasons I wrote about before. I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last 8 months, and I think I understand better what a dad is supposed to be. I got much of this from my own dad and never really realized how important what he taught me really was. I think I looked at the way he raised me in a negative way and didn’t really see the value of his wisdom until just recently.
For starters, maybe it would be helpful to explain some of the things that being a great dad doesn’t mean.
It doesn’t mean agreeing with you about everything (who needs that?).
It doesn’t mean being around you all the time.
It doesn’t mean being involved in every aspect of your life.
It doesn’t mean that you’ll never be frustrated with me.
It doesn’t mean you’ll always understand what I am doing.
It doesn’t mean that I’ll always be right.
Here’s what it does mean.
The best possible dad for you is one who:
Can hear your heart – your pains, your frustrations, your hurts, your joys – and feel them with you.
Cares enough to give advice that you might not agree with – and might not take.
Helps you see all the sides of a problem, not just one part.
Will tell you the truth even if it makes you mad.
Will pray for you
Will help you plan and prepare for your future
Helps you understand the man in your life
Helps you think about the kind of woman you want to be and to work on a plan for how you can get there.
Helps you learn how to handle conflict in your life in a healthy way
Helps you work on your friendships and relationships, even through disagreements and frustrations
Helps you understand the strengths you have and build on them.
Helps you see yourself as God sees you.
Helps you to find a way to be content in whatever circumstances you are in.
And will do all of this with an undying love for you that doesn’t require you to love him back.
I’m committing to be that Dad for you. I’m already working to do that and have worked at being that dad for you for many months. I hope some day that we can have that type of relationship.
You see I think that you need someone who can do those things in your life. I do. My best friend and my dad and my brothers are helping me by being that person in my life. I think many of these items that I have listed above are hard to find in a friend or a mom or a boyfriend. I think these are things that God meant to be done by a Dad. Even though I know I haven’t done these things very well, I have worked hard at doing some of them.
I look forward to being that kind of Dad for you in the future.
Just picked up the new book from Max Lucado called “Second Chances, stories of grace.” I think at my stage in the game, that’s was exactly the play being called, right?
If you’ve never read Max Lucado before, you are definitely in for a treat. He’s so engaging and easy to read and he’s got such a great way of moving your emotions. It was a particularly difficult day here. Saturdays used to be such a busy time — going to games, yard work, taking care of the animals, hiking, fishing with the family. Today was spent at the counselor and walking around the swap meet. Then a very slow afternoon spent working on the computer at some writing and doing a bit of TV watching and then finally going to my routine Saturday night dinner at a local mom and pop place where the weekend bartender and I chat while I drink my Diet Coke and read my book.
I was already a bit discouraged going in. Just a long, slow, lonely day. The normal weekend bartender wasn’t there — so even the chat I looked forward to all day wouldn’t be happening. Not trying to depress you guys, just explain that it really was one of those long days.
Crawled in bed a bit defeated around 11 PM and started reading in Max’s book about the woman at the well. He tells the story in such a way that you feel like you are there and you see it with completely different eyes.
As he’s going through the story, he relates another story of a little lonely girl in a class his friend taught to disadvantaged kids. Barbara had never spoken in class before and the first time she talked was after Max’s friend had discussed Heaven. Her first words were “Is Heaven for girls like me?” He speaks of this question as her prayer and talks of how Jesus would answer it — in the same way he answers the woman at the well. I’m quoting the book below:
“A prayer to do what God does best: take the common and make it spectacular…To take a pebble and kill a Goliath…To take three spikes and a wooden beam and make them the hope of humanity. To take a rejected woman and make her a missionary.”
That’s what I am. I’m the rejected one. I’m like this woman at the well. Like little Barbara asking “Is Heaven for me?” Is God’s hope for me? Is there an end to the rejection and the alienation? Is there a healing for these relationships.
My friend Charles told me this week: Pray the bold prayer. And he did. For me.
Dads — there is hope. As long as we have a God who makes the insignificant matter. However much we are belittled and attacked and alienated from our kids — whatever words are said, whatever actions done — don’t lose hope in the God who waits for us to pray the Bold Prayer. And then relishes in his opportunity to answer it.
No matter where you turn in our society, you see Single Dads and Single Moms juxtaposed in a very extreme manner. Single Dads are most frequently identified under the label of “Deadbeat Dads” defined as fathers who don’t have anything to do with their children and most often are behind on child support. Single moms are virtually always relegated to near sainthood status. Virtually every drafted NFL or NBA player has a sainted single mom — or at least that is what the media tell you.
For years, I believed this storyline, and looked down my nose at those dads that abandon their kids. Until I became an alienated father. Now I’m slowly realizing that there are two sides to every sainthooded mom / evil dad story. Without a doubt, there are fathers out there who are sperm donors and completely abandon their families. I have seen that there are moms out there who have done this as well. We never hear their stories, because it doesn’t fit the media narrative of deadbeat dads.
Two recent stories have caused me to rethink much of this. Both from my family.
Apparently, an uncle of mine had a child with his first wife. They divorced and as part of the proceedings (or maybe in spite of them), she took his daughter and wouldn’t let him have anything to do with her — completely alienating him from her. The mom told her daughter that her dad refused to pay any child support and that her dad didn’t care a wit about her and didn’t want to be involved in her life. My uncle went on to have 3 other girls with his 2nd wife, but sent checks monthly to his 1st wife until his daughter turned 18. Asking to be in her life, begging to be included, but to no avail.
After she reached adulthood, this daughter sought out her father and was very angry about the way that he’d completely neglected her. His 2nd wife quietly went into their study and brought out EVERY cancelled check from the 12 years of child support to show the daughter. You can imagine the scene from there. A “deadbeat dad” by definition of the 1st wife — and for many years, his daughter, went from evil man to faithful father in the span of an afternoon. All because the truth came out.
Second story is from my own life. I set up my child support account with the state recently. It took me three hours to do and the required certain documentation to set it up that I didn’t have. I needed a certain kind of number to set it up but couldn’t get that number until I set up an account. I finally set up the account without the number, referencing my ex-wife’s social security number in the record. The money didn’t flow to her. Instead it went to some trapdoor in the state system. She was irate and kept telling me I wasn’t paying her. I finally got a hold of the county child support person and gave her my check number and she tracked it down and got it to my wife. 3 weeks after I sent it in. The paperwork has been set up now where it comes directly from my paycheck with my company, so there shouldn’t be any additional problems.
During this process, I also discovered that I was considered a deadbeat dad by the system because I hadn’t paid child support during the first 2 months of the separation. Of course, I had paid child support, but the state takes so long to set up the number in the system, I couldn’t automate it until almost three months after the separation date. I paid the support directly to my wife, copying in my lawyer to every payment. I owed just under $2000 per month, and paid her over $8000 during that 2 month period, just to ensure she had enough to pay the bills, etc. I communicated all of this in emails to her.
The state requires a hearing to validate that this is paid (or an agreement between the two lawyers the won’t be final until the divorce is final). Either way, I will be marked as a deadbeat dad in any reporting the state does until this is settled. When it is finally settled, I will probably still show up as having been negligent in my child support.
Periodically, we hear states reporting deadbeat dad information, and it is always sobering how many dads are behind on child support and aren’t paying. I wonder how many of these dads are newly separated, like I was, or negligent because the state has not recognized what was previously paid before it was in the state system.
All this to say, I’m sure there are deadbeat dads. But let’s be careful in characterizing anyone late on child support in that category.
Final thought on this:
An Alienated dad is a Deadbeat dad. It depends on your perspective. From the mom’s, the kids’, and their friends views, he is a deadbeat — not involved in their lives and probably not paying his support as well… From the side of the alienated dad, he would love to be involved, and would probably pay well more than his share of the child support and alimony, springing for extras as needed at will — if he actually got to see his kids.
A deadbeat dad is not necessarily an alienated dad, he just might be what we commonly think of as a deadbeat dad. But lets not paint all of us with the same brush.
I don’t know about the rest of you alienated dads, but for me, the alienation started a long time before the separation occurred. I can identify the first real instance of this — where my daughter had some things about me that were frustrating her and she went to her mom and her mom basically validated every concern she had and told her that this is just the way her dad is.
My daughter then “confronted” me on the 10 issues she had with me. She wrote them down and told me I couldn’t talk while she read them all. After she was done, I asked her if I could talk with her about some of them. She wasn’t too excited about this, but I jumped in and tried to share with her why some of those issues might have been based on miscommunication or misunderstanding. I did own up to some of the shortcomings she had mentioned, but the conversation ended with her yelling at me and then her mom and her not speaking to me for four days. We were on vacation. That was 4 years before we separated and things went downhill from there.
Toward the end of the marriage, the alienation was occurring every week and daily. Something would happen in the home and I would get blamed for it and no one would speak to me for 3-4 days. I would be a stranger in my own house. I would try to communicate with the family, but would be met with either complete indifference and no reply or an angry response. Even after “apologizing” for whatever I had done “wrong” I would still be treated with silence. (I put those in quotes, because very frequently there was no sin or wrong involved, rather someone was frustrated with a response I made to something because they didn’t agree with it).
All this to say. I’m living alone in an apartment. There are no kids visiting — they won’t even talk to me though I have done nothing to harm them or my ex-wife. But you know what? It’s peaceful. There’s no one here to actively hate me. I have the ability to talk with God out loud any time I want. I don’t have to constantly defend myself for perceived slights and I can make a new start.
My brother told me the other day that he was feeling bad for me being alone. Then he realized it was probably better than when I lived with the family. He’s absolutely right. I will never have to go back to living in that environment again. I won’t allow it. Even as bad as it is getting negative and hateful emails from the kids and ex, I don’t come home to it every night. I have a sanctuary here in my apartment. THAT is something.
My counselor told me the other day that I needed to belong to something again. When I lived at home, even though it often seemed like a war zone, it was the war zone that I belonged in. I’d don my camouflage and my battle armor every time I graced the doorway, but it was where I belonged. My kids’ friends parents, small groups at church — all places and people with whom I belonged. All of these have been lost in the alienation resulting from the separation and divorce proceedings.
Not long before the separation, my kids were encouraging me to get a hobby. They were telling me that I needed to have another outlet for my energy.
“I work 50 hours a week or more and then the rest of my time is spent with you guys,” I said. “My hobby is my kids.” And so it was. I spent weekends on the sports fields, evenings helping with homework and relationship troubles and car troubles and taking care of animals in the house with the kids. Most of you were the same way. Once the separation hits, you really do find yourself alone. Your “My hobby is my kids” concept is out the window along with all your kids’ friends’ parents, your church, your small groups and pretty much every other facet of your life. You literally have to start anew because you’ve been alienated from everything else in your life.
So I am looking for places to belong now. Ran into a friend from church at the airport. This is one of the friends that is allowed to talk to me still! He encouraged me to try a specific different church in my area and invited me to his small group (not made up of couples). Maybe a place to belong? If anything — it was God showing that there are places for me still.
I’m working on the softball league, maybe a place to volunteer as well.
I’ll keep updating on the success (or lack thereof) in this belonging thing.
Update #1 – April 26, 2013
So I spent some time out at the volleyball courts this week subbing for some no-shows and had a great time. Looking forward to my small group this Friday and a single parents small group at my new church this Sunday. 3 places to potentially belong in one week.
Update #2 – April 28, 2013
Very much enjoyed my small group on Friday evening. This Sunday I went to the church I think I will be attending from here on out. Incredibly powerful music and message. I went to the welcome table, got their packet of stuff and then went to a volunteer meeting to see about getting on a team to help with welcoming others on Sundays. When I got home, I signed up online for their Service Project weekend coming up in a few weeks. Finally, all weekend long I’ve had the opportunity to email back and forth with a new blogger friend who’s been giving me input on my journey as well. The message in the service Sunday was about accepting the gift of “Sabbath” and using one day a week to truly rest in the way God had planned it. More than about belonging, it was about setting up little rituals at the end of the work week to signal your mind and your body that it’s a different time. I need to work on that as well. So progress has been made. Good has been done here today.
“Leave me alone. I don’t want you in my life, I don’t need you, you are note my father. I know the truth about you — you are a scumbag (this is a PG blog..). Goodbye!” Often they will call you by your first name. They will cuss, they will find anything and everything that you are ashamed of from your past (mostly stuff that your spouse has told them about you — maybe 30% of it true) and use that as a sharp axe in an attempt to extricate your head from your shoulders verbally.
“I’m not saying goodbye. You are my son and I will always love you and want a relationship with you. If you already know it is the truth, why are you scared to discuss it?
I suspect that you really know there are two sides to every story and there are many things that don’t make sense to you about your family situation, but it is too painful to even think about these thoughts right now. It is just easier to make me the evil enemy and then you don’t have to deal with anything, you can just be angry and that covers a lot of pain.
I love you.”
So maybe that wasn’t as good a response as I’d hoped. Because I got a return email calling me a hole. Not sure what a hole is, but I suspect it is not good. But the dad response is still the right one. Nothing that they can say or do will make me stop loving them. They have to be told that — along with some truth as well.
“Love those who hate you.” Jesus says. You never thought that would be your kids, did you? Maybe that’s why Jesus had to make it clear that this is our task. He goes into detail about loving those who love us back and what’s the great difficult in that? The difficulty is in loving someone unconditionally — as we do our kids — and thus deeply feeling those words and the wounds they inflict, yet still shaking that pain off and loving back. No matter what. Men — we can do this. It’s a challenge we can rise to.